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Knowing the Enemy

Most Americans would no sooner contemplate the inner lives of terrorists than they’d invite one to dinner. Ken Ballen, A77, F77, founder of the nonprofit research organization Terror Free Tomorrow, has done both. He conducted exhaustive interviews with more than a hundred terrorists in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and his book tells the stories of six of them.

“Terrorists are human beings. In order to understand what motivates them, first you have to talk to them. When I came across these six individuals, I realized their stories had to be told. With Zeddy [a Jihadi trainer and self-professed “captain of terror”], I was able to use his entire voice verbatim. I had to do very little to open the floodgates. With others, I had to be more patient. As a former federal prosecutor, I was used to interviewing terrorists, mafia members, and heads of drug cartels and finding out every detail of their lives. I also had the luxury of time. It’s not like being a journalist with a deadline.

Ahmed’s perceptions of Americans changed rather dramatically. He went to fight as a Holy Warrior in Iraq because of the Abu Ghraib scandal. He thought that’s what his faith called him to do, but he was lied to and manipulated by Al Qaeda. He said, “The Muslim brothers I went to fight for treated me like a piece of rotten meat. The Americans I went to fight against treated me with kindness and decency.” He became fiercely pro-American.

I was able to find some shared humanity with all the men, but in one case it only went so far. Malik was the personal seer to Mullah Omar, the Taliban chief. He would interpret his dreams and tell Omar his own dreams, and Omar would determine battle strategies based on this. We had spent all day together, and he was very moved by the interview. I finally told him I was a Jew. He denounced the Taliban and took my hands, which in Pashtun culture is a very powerful gesture of friendship. Then he said, “The day of judgment will not come until every Jew is killed. This is what the prophet Mohammed tells us.” In his own framework, it was the warning of a friend—“Become a Muslim now or this is what will happen to you”—but I felt it would be safer to end the interview.

What the War on Terror hasn’t done is expose the radical movement for what it is. Most of the individuals in the book ended up repelled by the cruelty, corruption, and duplicity of the leaders of the cause. Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American Al Qaeda operative recently killed in a drone strike, was convicted three times for soliciting prostitutes in the U.S. The morality of their leaders is very important to the people following them, and telling the truth about al-Awlaki would have harmed the movement more.


Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American Middle Class (University of North Carolina)

Long before Applebee’s, the middle class has been defining how America dines. Between 1880 and 1920, their growing consumer power helped knock the elite from their perches as culinary tastemakers. The old American aristocracy had favored elaborate nine-course meals at famous French restaurants like Delmonico’s, but these establishments were gradually eclipsed by less formal, more egalitarian, and more cosmopolitan options. This fascinating cultural history by Andrew P. Haley, A91, draws on culinary magazines, menus, restaurant journals, and newspaper accounts to explain how we went from paté de volaille aux truffes to chicken chop suey.

Are All Guys Assholes? (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin)

Spoiler alert: the answer is no. In eight cities, Amber Madison, A05, asked one thousand straight single men to fill out a survey with such cut-to-the-chase questions as “How many days do you usually wait to contact a girl after a date?” and “How soon is ‘too soon’ to have sex?” It turned out that despite the loutish caricatures in self-help books, lad mags, and Charlie Sheen sitcoms, men were—gasp—human. Just eight percent of her respondents were looking primarily for sex; most yearned for emotional connection with women, and ninety-nine percent said they wanted to get married someday. Madison’s research isn’t perfect science, but the insights she shares—including advice on how to spot a real asshole—offer glimmers of hope for single gals in search of Mr. Right.

Flatscreen (HarperCollins)

The debut novel by Adam Wilson, A04, opens like an ADD-fueled riff on David Copperfield for the age of Twitter. Instead of “To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born,” we get a stream-of-consciousness introduction to the protagonist Eli Schwartz’s indecision: “But maybe Mom’s not the best place to start, though she’s where I began . . . .” A pasty loser in an extended adolescence, Eli is an apathetic recessionary hero who lives at home, surfs the Internet, and tries to make some haphazard meaning of his life. When a washed-up actor named Seymour Kahn buys Eli’s childhood home, he and Eli begin a troubling friendship that brings them YouTube stardom and eventual redemption.

My Year of Living Fearlessly (Gollehon Books)

Scaring yourself can cure more than just hiccups. Told by her worried mother that she is living a “small life,” Amber Karlins, A10, dedicates a year to conquering the fears she feels are holding her back. She surmounts a fear of looking ridiculous by taking both belly- and pole-dancing classes, turns to a renowned “impalement artist” for knife-throwing tips, spends the night in a haunted hotel, learns the art of Hawaiian fire twirling, and snorkels in a tank full of sharks. From all of this Karlins emerges self-aware, adventuresome, and determined to live large.


Dress for Ping-Pong

Many of her fans were surprised when the A-list actor Susan Sarandon opened a Ping-Pong club, but for Barbara Cohen, SMFA72, it turned out to be the perfect showcase for her work. Her collection of Ping-Pong drawings and sculpture, featuring a motorized conveyer belt that keeps hundreds of hand-drawn balls in perfect motion, is on display at Sarandon’s club, SPIN, at 43 E. 23rd Street in New York. Sarandon has called the match-up “a perfect marriage.”

film & video

Barnum Awards

The 2011 P.T. Barnum Awards for Excellence in Entertainment were bestowed in June at Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles.

The latest honorees include the Emmy-winning, Tony-nominated actor, director, and comedian Hank Azaria, A88; David Rone, A84, president of Time Warner Cable Sports; and the prolific writers and producers Prudence Fraser Sternin, A77, and Robert Sternin, A77, whose credits include TV classics such as Alice, Three’s Company, and The Nanny, as well as theater projects. A posthumous award was presented to the parents of the late producer and director Gary Winick, A84, who helmed such popular features as Bride Wars and 13 Going on 30. Winnick was also a pioneer of digital technology, which he used to make several acclaimed low-budget indie films, including Tape, Tadpole, and Personal Velocity. Serving as honorary emcees were the television writer Jeff Strauss, A84 (Dream On, Friends, Titus & Reba), and a 2009 Barnum Award recipient, the television writer/producer Jeff Greenstein, A84 (Friends, Will & Grace, Desperate Housewives, Parenthood).

The Barnum event alternates each year between New York City and Los Angeles, respectively titled “From Ballou to Broadway” and “From the Hill to Hollywood.” It began in 2005 as a collaboration of the Communications and Media Studies Program, the Department of Drama and Dance, the Office of Alumni Relations, and the Hill to Hollywood network of the Los Angeles Tufts Alliance. The award honors the creative legacy of P.T. Barnum and the many talented alumni who continue to write, direct, produce, and act in the greatest shows on earth.

The Lemon

This short film by Gabriel Wilson, A03, recently got into both the Gotham and Big Apple film festivals. In just eleven minutes, it tells the sad story of a father and son forced to sell a beloved old car, their only remaining connection with the wife and mother who abandoned them. A trailer is at thelemonfilm.com.

Grandma’s Tattoos

Suzanne Khardalian, F06, had no warm memories of her grandmother Khanoum, a brittle, embittered woman with faded tattoos on her hands and forehead. A source of childhood curiosity, those tattoos led the Armenian filmmaker on a journey to unravel a horrifying family secret. Her documentary exposes a little-known facet of the Armenian Genocide: the sexual enslavement of young women, who were forced to wear tattoos that marked them as their captors’ property. The many denials Khardalian encounters on her travels suggest the collective shame of elderly Armenians about this painful chapter of their history. Their scars are stark reminders of women’s fate in places like Rwanda, Darfur, and Congo. The film has aired eight times on Al Jazeera and will soon be released on DVD.


Papas Fritas

The Indie rock trio are about to show their colors on the popular Nick Jr. TV program Yo Gabba Gabba. The band was founded at Tufts by Anthony Goddess, A95; Keith Gendel, A94; and Shivika Asthana, J95. Papas Fritas will appear as musical guests in the show’s current season.

The New Old Time

The latest CD by Jim Nollman, A69, gives classic fiddle tunes a jazzy, techno-inspired twist, played on a mandolin. Nollman, who has been playing the mandolin since he was a teenager, wanted to make the music his own without ruining it for traditionalists. “People who listen to this music have strong ideas about how it ought to sound,” he says.

Stephie Coplan, A09, and her band the Pedestrians are proving they’re anything but. Their debut EP came out in January, and the video for their song “Jerk” (bit.ly/pedestrians_jerk), which Coplan calls a “manic hate-sex anthem,” was recently featured as Video of the Day on Spinner.com. The group’s energetic sound and sharp, quirky lyrics have earned them a spot in Music Connection magazine’s Hot 100 Live Unsigned Artists list, the People’s Choice award at the 2011 Hoboken Music Awards, and performing gigs at hot venues in New York and New Jersey.

other books of note

Al Qaeda the Spider (AuthorHouse), by ART ARONSON, E61, tells the story of an undercover CIA and Homeland Security operative who foils a mass terrorism plot. Sustainable Excellence (Rodale), by ARON CRAMER, A84, and Zachary Karabell, shows how companies like Starbucks, GE, and Coca-Cola are transforming global challenges into profitable opportunities. In Primacy (Verbitrage), an eco-thriller by J.E. FISHMAN, A84, a talking bonobo threatens to bring down the animal testing industry. BRIAN A. HATCHER, a professor of religion at Tufts, provides the first complete English translation of Hindu Widow Marriage (Columbia), by Ishvarchandra Vidyasagar, a nineteenth-century scholar and social reformer who argued against the Indian custom requiring widows to live as social outcasts. BARRY S. LEVY, A66, an adjunct professor of public health at the medical school, has produced two practical volumes for professionals in the field, Mastering Public Health and Terrorism and Public Health (both Oxford). Rebel Rulers (Cornell), by ZACHARIAH CHERIAN MAMPILLY, A99, analyzes how insurgent organizations in Sri Lanka, Congo, and Sudan govern the territories they control. In Walter Pach (Penn State), LAURETTE McCARTY, J82, examines the life and work of an early U.S. champion of modern art. A Tea Reader (Tuttle), an anthology of essays gathered by KATRINA ÁVILA MUNICHIELLO, J96, meditates on the drink’s multifarious powers. In Evidence from the Earth (Mountain Press), RAYMOND C. MURRAY, A51, digs up the dirt on forensic geology, unearthing the secrets required to trace muddy footprints, find buried bodies, and expose gem and mineral fraud. PETER PROBST, a professor of art and art history, examines art and global heritage tourism in Nigeria in Osogbo and the Art of Heritage (Indiana University).

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